Album review: Tegan and Sara make a sweet, smooth but still dark sound on ‘Heartthrob’

Tegan and Sara
“Heartthrob”
Warner Bros.

Writing charming and infectious pop is nothing new for Canadian sisters Tegan and Sara Quin, but seven albums later they’re still finding ways to change their sound.

“Heartthrob,” Tegan and Sara’s most recent album, gives us 10 upbeat, sugary tracks. This really isn’t anything new for the sisters — they’ve been writing songs filled with catchy refrains since they started, but while their earlier songs relied more heavily on guitars and still had some roughness around the edges, “Heartthrob” is punctuated by synths with smooth pop production.

The album opens up with the first single, “Closer.” A simple synth line and harmonized “All I want to get is a little bit closer / All I want to know is can you come a little closer” kicks things off before the song erupts; it almost feels like you should be bopping around a moon bounce. But, as with much of the album, the glossiness of the tracks belies some of the darkness in the lyrics. When the song ends with the same refrain with which it opened, there’s a bit of wistfulness to it.

The sisters have always been good at expressing realistic relationships and honest emotion, and that’s still the case here. These aren’t songs about the perfect romance, and even if they may sound saccharine at first, the lyrics aren’t sugarcoating anything, admitting on “I Was a Fool” “If you’re worried that I might have changed / Left behind all of my foolish ways / You best be looking for somebody else / Without a foolish heart.”

In recent years, Tegan and Sara have been enjoying broader success, and as a consequence, alienating some of the smaller communities that have supported them for years. On the song “Someday” from their 2009 album, “Sainthood,” there’s the refrain of “I don’t wanna know that you don’t want me” alternating with “I might be something someday.” Now, nobody can deny that they’ve become something, and with “I’m Not Your Hero,” they’ve captured the other side of that feeling: “It’s so hard to know I’m not what they want.”

Tegan and Sara’s latest album could be the soundtrack to a late-night dance party, but the songs still contain the same quality of lyrics and hooks that made their previous albums accessible. The only danger of the slicker sound is that it may get lost and blend in with the pop airwaves. Ultimately, Tegan and Sara have added another album to a catalogue that moves them further into the mainstream without compromising the things that got them to this point.

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